A right wrist withered by polio was converted into a weapon that struck fear in the hearts of batsmen across the world. Bhagwat Subramanya Chandrasekhar (informally Chandra) was a rare jewel and was for long India's biggest match-winner overseas. The leg-spinner along with Prasanna, Bishen Singh Bedi and Venkataraghavan constituted the Indian spin quartet that dominated spin bowling during the 1960s and 1970s.
Chandrasekhar was born in 1945 in Mysore, where he had his primary education. He developed an early interest in cricket watching the playing style of Australian leg spinner Richie Benaud. An attack of polio at the age of six left his right arm withered. At the age of 10, his hand had recovered and Chandrasekhar started playing cricket.
By that time his family relocated to Bangalore and he got an opportunity to play for City Cricketers (a local team). In an interview, Chandrasekhar stated that he joined up mainly to get a chance to play with the leather ball. While playing on the streets of Bangalore, he had mainly used a rubber ball. While playing for the club, Chandrasekhar tried different bowling styles that also included fast bowling. It was in 1963 that he decided to play as a leg spin bowler. His idea proved to be right as he was soon selected for the national side.
He made his Test debut against England in Mumbai in 1964 and his unplayable deliveries created misery for batsmen. He took four wickets in that match. Most batsmen found it difficult to read his deliveries. This was not surprising because Chandrasekhar often said that he himself was never very sure about what was going to happen when he bowled.He was named the Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year the same year. Chandrasekhar was influential in setting up India's first victory in England when he picked up six wickets for 38 runs at the Oval in 1971 and the bowling was named the "Indian Bowling performance of the century" by Wisden in 2002.
Chandrasekhar's style could hardly have been more different. With a big bounding run-up and a whippy seam-bowler's action, he would fizz top-spinners, leg-breaks and googlies at his bewildered prey, many of whom would be beaten for pace as much as guile. He was the master of the unplayable delivery, and as such, he became India's greatest overseas match-winner, with 42 wickets in five famous victories.
In a Test against New Zealand in 1976, Chandrasekhar and Prasanna took 19 wickets and were crucial in setting up India's win. Attributed to him is a famous umpire-directed quote, made during a day of bad decisions in New Zealand after several of his lbw appeals were given not out: "I know he is bowled, but is he out?”
He also played a big role in India’s first ever win against Australia in 1978. India won the match at Melbourne and Chandrashekhar took 12 wickets for 104 runs.
Chandrasekhar had minimal batting skills, finishing with a Test average of 4.07. He was given a special Gray-Nicholls bat during the 1977–78 Australian tour with a hole in it to commemorate the four ducks he scored, and he has 23 Test ducks to his credit. He also holds the dubious distinction of scoring fewer runs (167) off his bat than wickets (242) taken in Test cricket; the only other cricketer with this distinction over a significant Test career is New Zealand fast bowler Chris Martin.
Chandrashekhar retired from international cricket in 1979. He had played 58 international matches and took 242 wickets for the country. He had also played one ODI game and returned with the admirable figures of 3 for 38.
After his retirement from international cricket, the legendary spinner settled down in Bangalore. His retirement has been plagued by ill-health caused by a couple of unfortunate accidents. A road accident left him with serious leg injuries.But with the same indomitable spirit that he displayed throughout his career, the cricketer has fought his way back to good health.